Downtown Medora, North Dakota. Image credit Dennis MacDonald via Shutterstock

9 Most Charming River Towns in North Dakota to Visit in 2024

Located at the very northern-central tip of the United States is North Dakota. The landlocked state borders several states and two Canadian provinces. It is a beautiful, charming state with picturesque vast great plains and calming rivers throughout. Most of the towns and cities here have low populations, with North Dakota itself only having 765,000 population. Visitors from other states and Canada can admire the bountiful rivers and lakes the Peace Garden State has to offer while maintaining a serene atmosphere. Learn more about the most charming river towns to visit in 2024.

New Town

Post office in New Town, North Dakota
Post office in New Town, North Dakota. Image credit Andrew Filer from Seattle (ex-Minneapolis), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A delightfully named town along the Missouri River. The population here is roughly 2,764 at the 2020 census. With beautiful, rustic lodging to stay at, New Town offers a variety of activities by the river, including a marina where fishing and boating take place.

For a breathtaking view of the area, check out Crow Flies High Butte. Here Lake Sakakawea, Badlands bluffs, and the foundations of the underwater town of Sanish can be seen. It also has a piece of American history in that it is where William Clark kept a lookout for Meriwether Lewis before they reunited.

A short distance away, just across the Missouri River is the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum, a family-friendly museum full of the culture and heritage of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people to learn about and admire. Close to the museum is the Earth Lodge Village, located on the shores of Lake Sakakawea.


Downtown Walhalla, North Dakota
Downtown Walhalla, North Dakota. Image credit In memoriam afiler, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The second oldest town in North Dakota, Walhalla, was established in 1845. Currently with a population of 843 as of the 2020 census. Only five miles from the Manitoba border, this small town sits on the banks of the Pembina River. Considered a "tame" river, the Pembina River is an excellent choice for family-focused water recreation, like canoeing.

A state historical park also exists as part of Walhalla’s history. The Kittson Trading Post was established in 1843 as part of the fur trade. Within this park exists a picnic area and shelter, and surrounding hiking trails.

The Tetrault Woods State Park is another park in Walhalla and a beautiful landscape where the outdoorsman can be tempted with hiking and picnicking. Winter activities include cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. About six miles west of Walhalla is the Pembina Gorge, the deepest and steepest part of the river. In this rugged and sheltered setting, this enormous forest is settled in a transition zone where three diverse biomes come together, the boreal forest, ester deciduous forest, and central grassland.


Downtown street in La Moure, North Dakota
Downtown street in La Moure, North Dakota. Image credit In memoriam afiler, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bordering Lake Lamoure and the James River is the town of LaMoure. The population was 764 at the 2020 census. Despite its small population, there is no shortage of things to do and places to see. Found on the southwest side of the small town along the James River is the James River Damsite Park. There is a secluded overlook with picnic tables that can be used to enjoy the view of the river and its many pelicans. Fishing is enjoyed during the summer and winter on the river.

The nearby Lake LaMoure is a few short miles from the town of LaMoure. It can be enjoyed in every season of the year. For an amazing view, check out the Chan SanSan Scenic Backway, one of only 10 scenic byways and backways in the state. The backway gets its name from the Yanktonai Sioux name for the James River. The scenic backway begins at State Highway 46, and follows the James River Valley south for 35 miles through the towns of Adrian, Dickey, Grand Rapids, and LaMoure.

Every Father’s Day weekend is the North Dakota Farm Toy Show hosted by the Toy Farmers Publication. The enjoyable festival has been part of the local community for the last 30 years. There is minimal admission and days of fun for those who attend.


The Garrison dam is an earth-fill embankment dam on the Missouri River in central North Dakota.
The Garrison dam is an earth-fill embankment dam on the Missouri River in central North Dakota.

A town that had its start as a construction camp for workers at Garrison Dam just to the west. As of the 2020 census, the population is 223. This tiny town is in a basin of the larger part of the Missouri River, leading into a thinner section of the Missouri River to the south and Lake Audubon to the east.

For a great photo opportunity to capture the beauty of the area, check out The Garrison Dam and Power Plant. It is one of the most notable and known tourist attractions in the area. There are tours of the facility for those who are interested. The Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium is separate from the tours and is also available to view.

A bit of local food and gorgeous scenery can be found at Spillway Coffee House LLC. With outdoor seating, it can be a great place to take in delicious food and coffee while enjoying what the area has to offer. One nearby local feature is Misty the Mermaid, a gorgeous metallic sculpture designed by Tom Neary. The Stones that line the pathway are donated by each county in North Dakota.


The Main Street in the historic town of Medora, North Dakota.
The Main Street in the historic town of Medora, North Dakota. Image credit EQRoy via

Founded in 1883, Medora now has a population of only 121 at the time of the 2020 census. Despite its rather small local population, it is considered North Dakota’s Number One Destination, as stated by their town motto. This small, beautiful town finds its fame with local events and attractions such as the Medora Musical, Bully Pulpit Golf Course, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There is no shortage of things to do in this small town as you take in the beauty of the area. For instance, May 26th, 2024, is the all-day Badlands Gravel Battle, a back road bike race. Something for people to watch or to take part in.

Medora also has memorable lodging options. The Conestoga Wagons are placed along the edges of the Missouri River and allow the lodger to feel like a pioneer while they stay here. The season they open begins May 12th, 2024. For a bit of history and a show, you could take part in Brunch with President Roosevelt, where a Teddy Roosevelt reprise tells stories of the former president’s life. This delicious show begins June 17th until August 1st. Be sure to grab your tickets!


Main Ave., Washburn, North Dakota
Main Ave., Washburn, North Dakota. Image credit Ua747sp, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another town located along the Missouri River, Washburn’s town motto is "The Grandest Little City on the Missouri," and as of the 2020 census, its population is 1,300. The name honors General Cadwallader C. Washburn. A beautiful town to take a relaxing vacation to, there are many camping and RV parks and local motels. The McLean County Historical Society first originated in 1967 with the McLean County Museum located in the town's second courthouse (which was built in 1905).

The history of the area is on full display for locals and visitors. The area has the beginning (or the end) of the Sakakawea Scenic Byway in Washburn until it reaches Lake Sakakawea. The Byway has several historical sites along the way, including a fully furnished Fort Mandan replica, the Cross Ranch State Park and reserve, which is home to a herd of beautiful bison, and ends at the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.


Drayton Drug, Drayton, North Dakota.
Downtown Drayton, North Dakota. Image credit Andrew Filer from Seattle (ex-Minneapolis), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This small town has a population of about 757 as of the 2020 census. The United States Census Bureau also states that Drayton has roughly 0.65 square miles of total land, making it quite small. Drayton hugs the Red River as it borders the state of Minnesota right across from the town and the river.

The local atmosphere is charming as it provides several recreational opportunities for the summer and the winter, as well as points of interest which include golf courses and beautiful parks. Heritage Square Park is located on the main street of Drayton, where the pioneering founders of the town are honored. A somewhat hidden view is the close by view of the Red River. Recent additions to the park include lilac bushes and fruit trees, which can be enjoyed during a picnic. A local staple is the Mayor’s Row. It is a collection of specimen trees planted in memory of each of Drayton’s mayors. Each tree has a plaque to tell you what kind of tree it is, and which mayor it was planted for.

Something to enjoy on the river is fishing and canoeing. Anyone who canoes along the Red River is sure to pass by the Red River Valley, one of the most fertile areas in the United States. The Hastings Landing Recreation Area stops right in downtown Drayton for those who park their canoes.


Ottertail River joining the Bois de Sioux to create the Red River of the North.
Ottertail River joining the Bois de Sioux to create the Red River near Wahpeton, North Dakota.

A small town that finds itself along the Bois de Sioux River at its confluence with the Otter Tail River, which forms the Red River. The population here was 8,007 as of the 2020 census. Wahpeton has a twin city in Minnesota, Breckenridge, located on the other side of the river.

For outdoor atmosphere and recreational fun, check out Chahinkapa Park. It features a sculpture garden from local and regional artists, and the Prairie Rose Carousal, an antique 1926 carousel that has been fully restored. The carousel is one of only three antique carousels still in operation in the United States. Within Chahinkapa Park is the Chahinkapa Zoo was opened in 1933 and is the first zoo to ever be built in North Dakota. Every year it is open from May until October. During the winter it is open by appointment only.

Wahpeton is also home to “Wahpper” a 40-foot-long fiberglass sculpture of a catfish. It was placed in its spot next to the Red River in 1997. It is the largest catfish sculpture after the one in Dunville, Ontario. Whenever the Red River floods, the statue is surrounded by the water and appears to be swimming.


Abraham Lincoln State Park, Mandan North Dakota.
Abraham Lincoln State Park, Mandan, North Dakota.

Considered a city, Mandan is a larger town with 24,206 residents. It is located across the Missouri River from Bismark, the state capital of North Dakota. The city is full of history and has an inviting atmosphere.

For a bit of local history, check out Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. The park was established in 1907, making it the oldest state park in North Dakota. Some of the historical sites in the park include On-A-Slant Indian Village, the military fort named Fort Abraham Lincoln, and the CCC Worker Statue, a statue honoring the men and the hard work they did in maintaining North Dakota State Parks during the Great Depression.

For a short road trip, check out the Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway. This Scenic Byway travels along I-94 through 10 individual communities from Mandan to Dickinson, where several quaint shops, historical sites, and charming prairie landscapes can be seen.

Mandan Rodeo Days are held every year over the Fourth of July celebrations. Featuring the usual rodeo events with bulls, broncs, and barrel races, it also includes the Independence Day Parade and "Gigantic" fireworks display to close off the events of the rodeo. Be sure to check out this event if you are in the area. It’s sure to be tons of fun!

The charm of North Dakota is even more obvious in these riverfront towns. With smaller populations, there is still a lot to see and do in these small serene towns. From museums and historical sites to visit, local events to take part in, and the recreation available on the rivers themselves, North Dakota and its rivers have much to offer any visitors. The fertile prairies and gorgeous, flowing rivers are just waiting for you to take in their charm once again.

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